I am out of touch with much of what has been going on in the Evangelical world since I stopped attending church with any sort of regularity. It is an alien world to me now, odd and kind of unsettling in a Stepford sort of way. I should warn you that this post is going to ramble somewhat more than usual.
The Evangelical world tries to separate itself in an odd, paranoid way from the "secular" world, while setting up a kind of fun-house mirror image of that same world. Capitalism is the driving force behind the culture that Evangelicals fear. There is a market for sex, violence, etc and the marketplace simply goes where the money is. Evangelicals have embraced Capitalism as an almost sister faith to the Faith, made the two intertwined and inseparable. Sins against the marketplace and sins against capital have almost become tantamount to sins against God.
One of the things that got me thinking about all this again was reading an article on Pete Chattaway's blog on how Sony and an American evangelist, Tim LaHaye, are about to produce an unofficial sequal to Gibson's The Passion called The Ressurection. That in itself didn't interest me overly much, it was the tidbit on how LaHaye responded when another film project he was associated with didn't live up to his expectations. LaHaye is the co-author of the Left Behind series with a guy named Jerry B. Jenkins. (check out the terrible names of the characters in these books) The plot of the series was summed up on Wikipedia as "Taking as its premise the pretribulationist teaching of a Rapture which takes from the earth all believers in Jesus Christ, the story is from the viewpoint of those who are not. The initial group have family or friends that believe, and they experience the event having been "Left Behind"."
The series were turned into films starring über-evangelical actor Kirk Cameron, aka Mike Seaver on the siropy `80's sitcom Growing Pains. The first film in the series was released on DVD first and then in theatres and did poorly in the theatres. My understanding is that Left Behind: The Movie pulled in more money than any other gospel film - excluding The Passion - in box office history. Still, Tim LaHaye was unsatisfied with the results and sued the producers for making low quality films and reaching too few viewers. The film grossed $12.5 million on less than 302 screens in the United States, I am not sure what he expected but I believe his expectations were unrealistic.
LaHaye states that it wasn't about money, it was about the quality of the film. LaHaye's people say that LaHaye is at a point in life where money is not a concern. Still LaHaye's lawyer states that the film wasn't a blockbuster (LaHaye claims the film was promised a $40 million budget and received only $17.4) and failed to achieve its mass-market potential. The goal is the number of souls saved, apparently, and not the greenbacks they shell out to see the film. Still it is had to swallow, especially since some of those "lost souls" could also be seen as lost "dollars".
Documentation apparently supports Cloud Ten and Namesake productions, the target of LaHaye's suit. Marketing rights seem to be a factor as well as Peter LaLonde from Cloud Ten showed in a letter written by LaHaye to a third party stating, "I desperately want this to be a successful movie, but not until we have a signed agreement that they surrender all rights to the children's videos which, as you know, were never intended to be part of our original agreement." (See the Christianity Today article)
To Jerry B. Jenkin's credit, he refused to take part in the suit. I suppose all this would not be an issue if Christianity hadn't been seduced by the marketplace - the values would be different, not so driven by the bottom line. Rather than these books and films being valued for their utilitarian function or shifting the focus away from effecient utility to something more artistic and aesthetic, perhaps Christians could be taken seriously if they actually gave a damn about making good art? I didn't see The Passion, but I will lay odds that Gibson's work will have held to far more serious artistic convictions (in that attempting to produce good art is far more honouring to your God than making mainstream, lowest common denominator crap) than people behind The Ressurection could even consider. I fully believe that The Ressurection is just going to be yet another embaressingly simplistic, unimaginative gospel film.
Anyhow, here are some links connected to LaHaye that I found on his Wikipedia page:
Tom Sine writes a very insightful article in Sojourners into Tim Lahaye and the effect that he and his brand of Evangelicalism are having in America today.
Jeffery Goldberg, writing for Slate, discusses Tim LaHaye and Jerry Falwell in context to the anti-semitism that pervades this extreme portion of Evangelical Christianity. The article is called, I Antichrist?